The Power of Words by Paloma Douglas

My journey as a writer has taught me this—say something and say it well. In a time when excess extends to our speech, I constantly cut and edit. In high school, I received praise for my elaborate and erudite essays that used dumb words like erudite. I thought I was a good writer, but I realize now I was just sneaky and clever at working the educational system. “Don’t say just anything. Say something. Something has substance.”

Put the world on mute. Voices are eerily absent, only diegetic sounds remain—Starbucks espresso machine hissing, shoes clacking. The menu over the bar displays only photos and your computer screen blinks blank. Now un-mute. Language buzzes from above, below, and all sides. The girl in line tells her friend she’s angry they added whip when she said no whip. The man on his cell phone talks to an invisible person about “margins” and “ceilings” and other impersonal-sounding things. The list of ingredients on the biscotti wrapper informs you of exact caloric value, city of origin, and a frightening amount of  “-ogynated” ingredients. The open laptop spews news about “Kardashian Tweets You Missed This Week” next to a story about people burned alive in the Middle East. The levels of importance we assign these different stories begin to jumble.  

We reconstructed centuries of ancient societies from analyzing writing on square inches of clay chipped off pots. Two percent evidence, ninety-eight percent conjecture. “Obviously, by the way they used this tiny accent mark, we can tell this civilization really liked pizza.”

Two thousand years from today, people will know for a fact that we really really liked pizza, and not because of a scrap of pottery clay. They will uncover hard drives that show an Internet history of Domino’s online ordering. They will review our cell-phone records, watch our TV shows, read our diaries that speak of pizza-love. We now hold the award for the best-documented society, ever. Technology does this. It’s good and it’s bad. We have more posts than we ever wanted to read, more packaging. More accessibility and inevitably lesser quality. Words everywhere. Meaningless words, thoughtless words, just words. Think back to the coffee shop. Words, words, words.

Tiny symbols in the shapes of a, b, c alone mean absolutely nothing. But when strung together in meaningful ways, they can wage wars, inspire revolutions. We’ve seen it done in the past.

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

“I have a dream.”

“Let there be light.”

I hope that when drones excavate my apartment in two thousand years, they’ll find more than pizza coupons. I hope they find words that moved people to love, compassion, and justice. I hope they find more thank-you letters than Instagram posts, more prayers for people than stupid texts. I hope I’ve said something, even in the smallest of ways.

By Paloma Douglas